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CALGARY, Alberta, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Canadian producer BlackPearl Resources Inc is looking for a partner to develop its 80,000-barrel-per-day Blackrod oil sands project in northern Alberta, the company's chief executive told Reuters on Friday.
The Calgary-based company received approval from the Alberta government to build the Blackrod thermal project late on Thursday.
It is the largest energy project to be approved by Alberta's left-leaning New Democratic Party government since it was elected in May 2015. The Ministry of Energy also gave the green light to Surmont Energy Ltd's 12,000 bpd Wildwood thermal project and Husky Energy Inc's 3,000 bpd Saleski project on Thursday.
Collectively they represent around C$4 billion of potential investment in Alberta's battered economy but all three require final investment decisions before being built, and no new oil sands projects have been sanctioned by companies since the start of the two-year price rout.
Developing Blackrod to its full 80,000 bpd capacity would transform BlackPearl from an oil sands minnow producing less than 10,000 bpd into a mid-sized player in the Canadian energy industry.
But given persistent low prices, BlackPearl Chief Executive John Festival said the company would not be advancing Blackrod on its own, and would instead concentrate on the second phase of its Onion Lake project in Saskatchewan.
"We do not have plans to go out and build at Blackrod but we would entertain a partnership with someone else if they want to come in and carry us for the first phase," Festival said.
Festival said U.S. crude would need to average $55-$60 a barrel for the company to break even on the full-cycle cost of building the project and get a 10 percent return on investment.
That is well above the current price of $43 a barrel, but Festival said now was a good time to build given low labor costs in Alberta and the fact the plant will take two years to build and produce for 30 years, in which time prices could recover.
Mark Smith, chief executive of privately held Surmont Energy, said his company was looking for financial backers and estimated it would need around $125 million to move forward with the first 3,000 bpd phase of the project.
The break-even cost of Wildwood is an estimated $50 a barrel, Smith said, although technological advances in processed water treatment meant Surmont is hoping to get that below $40 a barrel.
"We had some backers a while ago, unfortunately with the price of oil and the length of time to get an approval they have invested elsewhere," Smith said in an interview.
A spokesman for Husky said there was no development timeline for Saleski, and any decision would need to be reviewed in light of the current environment.
($1 = 1.3210 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Will Dunham